Lack of funding is forcing aid agencies to cut feeding programmes for starving people in northeast Nigeria, the UN said Thursday, warning of growing pressure on resources as refugees return.
The World Food Programme last week said nearly two million people were living on the brink of famine in the remote region, which has been devastated by Boko Haram violence since 2009.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 5.2 million people could need life-saving food aid in three northeast states from June to August.
OCHA said a massive funding shortfall had “forced some organisations to review plans and targets and in some cases reduce food distribution for the upcoming critical lean season”.
That “might negatively affect some of the progress made so far”, it added in its latest situation report.
“This, paired with recent nutrition assessments indicating deteriorating nutrition levels in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (states), is putting increased pressure on food security and nutrition responders,” the agency said.
Boko Haram’s Islamist insurgency has killed at least 20,000 people in northeast Nigeria and forced millions of others from their homes.
Lack of security, plus restrictions on travel and trade, have hit agriculture in a desperately poor region dependent on subsistence farming and fishing.
That has led to food shortages and driven up prices.
The UN says Nigeria needs $1.05 billion this year to fund vital humanitarian projects including food and healthcare provision, clean water, sanitation and education.
But on Tuesday it said the plan to tackle “the looming famine” was only about 20 percent-funded at $24 million.
“We need to do more, we need to do it quicker and we can always do better,” said the UN’s deputy humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, Peter Lundberg.
Lundberg called the situation in the northeast “Africa’s worst humanitarian crisis” and said funding was “pivotal” as Nigeria faces up to the aftermath of the conflict.
Aid agencies working the region have stepped up their efforts with the approach of the rainy season, which sees already hard-to-reach rural areas cut off by flooding.
Makeshift dwellings are threatened with damage from heavy rains while the risk of disease — especially malaria and water-borne conditions such as typhoid and cholera — increases.
Nigeria’s government had wanted to shut camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) in and around the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, by the end of May but was forced to abandon the plan.
Humanitarian agencies say camps elsewhere in Borno are facing increasing pressure because of the return of refugees from neighbouring Cameroon.
More than 6,000 people have registered with the immigration service since early April; 1,500 arrived in the first two weeks of May and 2,500 more are expected in border areas in the coming weeks.
“Returnees are arriving in areas where aid partners may not be fully prepared to provide assistance due to lack of presence and funding”, said OCHA.
“The conditions in return areas are very poor and camps are overcrowded. The situation continues to deteriorate with serious protection implications.
“The returnees are in a precarious state, lacking all basic life necessities, including shelter, food and water.”
Security also remains a persistent problem, with regular suicide and bomb attacks, despite military claims the militants have been weakened to the point of defeat.
Earlier this month, Britain and the United States warned that foreign aid workers were at increased risk of kidnapping in border areas where people are most in need of help.
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